Einar (Kirk Douglas) and Erik (Tony Curtis) are Viking half-brothers. Einar is a great warrior, Erik an ex-slave who makes a bitter enemy of Einar, but neither knows the identity of the other.
Ernest Borgnine features as their father, the great Viking chieftain, Ragnar, who numbers amongst his accomplishments in the film the brutal ravishing of an English queen.
When the throne of Northumbria becomes free, the brothers compete for it.
“Mightiest of Men, Mightiest of Spectacles, Mightiest of Motion Pictures!” boasted the poster for Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings in which Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis’ competitive on-screen chemistry was first enjoyed before being further exploited, two years later, in Spartacus (1960).
Shot on location in Norway (including some spectacular fjords), Germany and France, preparations for the screen adaptation of the best-selling novel by Edison Marshall included a year’s pre-production and historical research to lend authenticity to its reconstructed longships and epic, if gory, battle scenes.
A complete 30-acre replica of an ancient Viking village was constructed, and Norwegian shipbuilders recreated authentic full-scale models of three Viking vessels modelled after the remains of the ancient Norse ships preserved at the Viking museum in Oslo.
A fleet of 30 vessels was hired to service the production in Norway, including the 239-foot luxury yacht Brand VI, formerly owned by Barbara Hutton. The unit fleet was supplied with 80 tons of water each day, pumped via mile-long hoses from a waterfall. Natural pressure did the trick.
In France, at the coastal town of Dinard, a 1000-year-old castle was taken over for the climactic battle scenes set in ancient Britain.
One of the most lavish and spectacular pictures at the time, costing approximately $4 million to produce, its box-office success paved the way for future Viking epics, including The Long Ships (1964), which was directed by the cinematographer of The Vikings, Jack Cardiff.
Production design gets points for the fact that neither horned helmets nor drinking out of skulls is in evidence.
The cast and crew – which at times numbered 4,000 people – represented 16 different nationalities and required as many translators and also a half-dozen chefs to cater to the different diets.
The uncredited title narration is from Orson Welles.